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rocks and gardening :(

 
Leah Sattler
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since I am moving to ft. smith it is quite likely I will end up with property that is mostly rocks. so far my plan will be to find and dump as much organic material I can find in my chosen garden spot. Any other tips?
 
Susan Monroe
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I wish there was an easy answer.

I see only two alternatives:  dig them out or make raised beds.

I wouldn't feel so bad about dealing with them, if there was something they could be used for! 

Recently, one of my crews said he was looking into slipform building.  From what I have found, you set up some wooden forms that can be added to in height as you build.  Then you pour a little concrete in the bottom, drop rocks into it, and add more concrete, mushing it between the rocks. More rocks, more concrete.

One thought that did come to mind is a half-circle rock/concrete structure, a wall aimed at the sun. 

Then I would plant a Puget Gold apricot in it, and see if I the retained heat would help it to produce.  Apricot trees will GROW here, but they are said to only produce fruit maybe one year out of six. The big problem here is that we have warm days in early spring, the trees flower, then we get freezing nights that kill the flowers, so no fruit.

Maybe incorporate some spikes or clips or something that would hold heavy-duty plastic sheeting over the top and front on cold nights after buds form.

What do you think? 

(And yes, I do know that the usual recommendation is to plant them in the coolest place available to help prevent bud formation, but it just doesn't work here.)

Sue
 
Leah Sattler
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the idea of using them for something does make it a bit less depressing. I think it was the ?easter islanders? that used rocks to help retain heat for their crops. not that there probably aren't plenty of other ancient  (and modern) cultures that did the same. maybe with small raised beds of rock and covers at night I could grow some things year round. feeling the heat that comes of my brick house now in the middle of the night it sure sounds plausable. a bed at the base of my house planted in roses is "mulched with large rocks that I dug put when I removed my koi pond and those roses and tehe few weeds around them last quite a while past when other plants have been bit by the cold. I'd give that apricot tree a shot on the south side of a rock wall in a raised bed of rock and see what happens. hey thanks! you changed my attitude a bit. it will be some work but there might be some positive things.
 
paul wheaton
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With permaculture, the rocks are great!

Imagine mulching with rocks. 

Rocks make the very best raised bed borders.    I like raised beds that are two feet tall!

If you make a pile of rocks near the drip line of a tree, after a year, the rocks on the bottom will be super cool (from the soil underneath from all of the previous winter).  As cool morning air passes through the rocks, the rocks will collect far more dew and dribble that water onto the tree roots at that spot.  It will make for excellent frog and newt habitat. 

Rocks are great for walls, for chimneys .... imagine something like a cob oven, but built with lots of rocks.  Imagine a mass heater inside your home made out of rocks.  Imagine a spring house made from stone.

I think the only folks that freak out about rocks are those with plows and rototillers.

 
Leah Sattler
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you guys have made me feel alot better! The only thoughts going through my mind when I looked at places were "how am I going to turn what amounts to a big gravel road, into a garden?" .

generally speaking, do rocky areas have well mineralized soil ?(what soil there is). I'm pulling this straight from the idea factory in my head with no scientific basis, but I am hoping that the rocks might sort of be like time released minerals. slowly breaking down and delivering their contents to the soil. am I being too optimistic?
 
paul wheaton
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Generally speaking:  I dunno. 

Generally speaking:  As long as you have any soil, you can do stuff.  There is a BIG difference between a rock that spans 20 acres that has dust in the cracks and 20 acres of soil that is 80% rocks fist size or bigger.  The first is difficult.  The latter seems pretty damn good to me!

My preferred gardening technique is permanent raised beds that are two feet tall.  And rocks make the best border.  Only rocks that are big enough can be hard to find or come from far away.  Imagine deciding where your raised beds are going to be and then digging down about a foot to get the rocks out that you will use fro the border.  Next, dig down a foot outside the bed to also get rocks for the border and soil to go inside the bed.    As you build up the bed, don't forget to throw lots of old wood, sticks, leaves, old hay, animal poop and any other organic matter into the bed.  You will end up with fantastic soil in a raised bed with a rock border and rock paths between the beds.
 
Susan Monroe
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Paul, do you mortar your rocks together?  Mine are the round glacial type, and there's no way they can stack. Roll, yes, but not stack.

Yes, the problem is finding the rocks that are large enough to be useful.  Mine range from head-sized to smaller, with emphasis on large baking potato sizes.

Leah, one thing that just came to mind is making some beds that fit old windows that you already have. Use them to cover the beds in cool weather, remove them in warm weather.

Apparently, the slip-form idea will take all sizes of rocks, not requiring just the large ones.  I may try some slipform garden beds someday.

Sue
 
Leah Sattler
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cool idea thanks sue! There will be some big rocks from what I have seen so far, it was disheartening to see that anywhere people drove or any worn walking paths became gravel without the introduction of outside rock  not much soil at all. but Ididnt' get a chance to go to some of the open valley areas and stick a shovel in the ground. hopefully the sediment that has settled in the valleys over the years will offer pockets of decent soil. There were several isolated areas that were put to agricultural use, mostly around the arkansas river, so I can hope to find somwhere near there.
 
Susan Monroe
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Here's the local Cooperative Extension Service for Crawford Co., AR:  http://www.uaex.edu/crawford/

It probably wouldn't hurt to contact them and chat.

Oh, well, if the soil isn't too good, you know how to improve it! 

I was looking for Ft. Smith soil descriptions and ran across this site that evaluates radon in the area. Hmmmm.... http://www.ersys.com/usa/05/0524550/radon.htm

Sue
 
paul wheaton
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SueinWA wrote:
Paul, do you mortar your rocks together? 


That's kind of a personal question isn't it?  (sorry, really lame joke - but I couldn't resist)

For raised beds, I don't mortar.  For a wall of a house or a free standing wall, I would use mortar.

For raised beds, the rocks lean in on the soil.

Slip form stuff is really cool and pretty easy, but still very time consuming.

Smaller rocks are not as nice as bigger rocks, but they can still be of use.

 
Susan Monroe
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Well, yes, it is a rather personal question... 

Are your rocks round? How do you get them to lean? Mine just roll and then sit there like, well, rocks.

How high are your beds?

Sue
 
paul wheaton
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You can see some of my garden beds in this article

The rounder the rocks, the more they need to lean in on the dirt.  You can see some pretty round rocks ...

 
Susan Monroe
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What article?

Sue
 
Susan Monroe
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Mine are even more round than that.  (No, I'm not bragging  ).  I think they roll by themselves around midnight. Right around the same time the coathangers are multiplying in the closet.

Sue
 
Leah Sattler
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not fair! my coat hangers elope with my socks at night!
 
paul wheaton
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If you think about it, you could build a raised bed border with bowling balls about two feet high by leaning them in a little. 
 
Leah Sattler
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Paul - the rocks are so pretty on your place! like big cobble stone. glacier trimmed and shined I suppose. Mine are "ancient worn down mountain" rocks. glacier and river rocks are so much nicer. Uh oh I'm starting my littly pity party again  I am going to look at two houses today and will be taking my camera and my shovel. 
 
Susan Monroe
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When I was looking for a place, I asked about the history of the land (shorter history in the west!).  Mine was cow pasture.

The question I didn't know to ask (until later) was if they or any previous owner used it as a dump.  My acre lot is L-shaped, as a previous owner bought the back half of the next-door neighbor's lot.  I did kind of wonder about the longish (100' slight ridge or rise across the middle of the additional piece.  I had dug a hole to plant a tree, and found a gallon glass fingerloop jug.  The stomach-turner was the exposure of what appears to be a black plastic garbage bag that I just noticed last week.  I haven't had the nerve to dig there and see what is what.

Ask!

Sue
 
Leah Sattler
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thats interesting sue because our our current place was essentially the same situation. we knew that there was a bunch of junk (even 1/2 a car sticking out of a wash out to the creek) but thought that the previous owners were jsut trashy. My husband was chatting with a neighbor who grew up in the area and mentioned that we were annoyed because in the back part of the property we had to bury a mountain of glass. He told us that our property was part the area dump when he was a kid! All his buddies would drive back here when it was all wooded and rural and drink and throw their bottles in a pile. in addition to people bringing all their crap to get rid of. Its cleaned up now (with the help of a bull dozer unfortunatley). There are just a few things that the goats have uncovered when we put them to work eating it down. some of the stuff we knew about but had no way of reaching through the dense "jungle". Now we can at least get down there and hook the tractor to an old washing machine in the creek. need to get to that. 

Here is a pic of what much of the ground looks like in the areas we are lplanning to move to when the vegetation is removed. this is a portion of a gas site well that trucks and equipment have been driving on. Holy boogers there are a million gas wells out there!!! everywhere you look  there is a gas well!


 
Susan Monroe
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SQUARED ROCKS!  YOU'VE GOT SQUARED ROCKS THERE!

Sorry.  But squared rocks can be stacked, unlike my granite bowling balls.

Don't those gas tanks contaminate the soil? 

Sue
 
Leah Sattler
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There are some concerns with the frack water that is used to extract the gas and its disposal. They are extracting the gas from ancient sea beds and the water they use becomes very salty. I think they usually dispose of it in "wells" that are way below well accessable ground water. Natural gas is supposed to be the cleanest of all petroleum mining operations, at least from what I know. There is a huge gas reserve under arkansas. I only know anything about it because my husband currently sells  some equipment to the drill riggers, but only for a few more days now!!! Around there the chicken farms are more numerous than even the gas wells and they pose a much graver and more immediate threat to the enviroment and especially the water. Oh boy. can't wait to move 
 
Kelda Miller
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about the rocks:

yes, there's more minerals. I randomly was just in a conversation about rocks and farming today with an old-timer, 90 yr old neighbor. (even before i saw this post)

we were going on and on about how cool rocky land is, the regular agriculture folks don't want it because it's hard to till. but it's great for the soil water, and critters, to have all that soil diversity . If you're planting perennials, they don't it mind it at all as long as there's enough soil to grow in. So in a lot of ways it's more suited to the permaculture philosophy than regular ag.

Could be a real pain to dig holes in though. bummer
 
Leah Sattler
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thats good news kelda! thank you. Some usable rocks and the liklehood that the area is still well mineralized are positives. we are going to look a bit farther south near Booneville as that area is known for better farm land. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we will get a good mix of both.  Have 30 acres and house to check out this weekend. that would be awesome if we had enough property to hunt deer and turkey as well.   
 
Kelda Miller
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I was just thinking about rocks again with all this snow. I was lucky enough to be at the beach this weekend in a warm cabin (poor me) while everyone else was getting snowed in. There was, yes, still snow on the beach, just less.

And then it didn't snow for a few days, but was cold enough that the snow wasn't melting. Except where there was a big hurking rock to warm things up a bit.

Hm. Something to think about for my only-kinda-hardy plants out there. Everything right now is covered with a foot + of snow. But perhaps I could strategically place rocks to warm up a few spots faster....

(but then again, the snow is also protecting plants, it wouldn't do much good to melt away around a tender-ish perennial only to have it blasted by the cold once nighttime sets in)
 
Leah Sattler
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kelda - rocks can do a great job of retaining heat to extend plant life. Ihave a bed with roses in it and it is "mulched" with rocks. that being coupled with its position next to the brick on the house definitly extends the time they are blooming and green.
 
paul wheaton
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In the sepp holzer video, it shows lots and lots of ponds and lots and lots of rocks.

And it showed lots of snow and ....  citrus fruits.

There would be big, south facing cliffs with a pond in front of them.  So not only would the sun warm the rocks, but the sunlight would hit the pond and reflect onto the same rocks.  So the rocks would get double sun. 

 
rose macaskie
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I had a friend with a garden in Gredos, the mountains in the province of Ávila, Spain, that are granite and her garden was a small number of enormous flattish pieces of granite, her husband was a local boy who studied architecture, the local architect, as he was the local architect he new where soil had been dug out to make the foundations of a house, she just got a lorry load of soil to put on her rocks, the thing is to make friend with builders or such.
  This is the first thing i thought of when i read your bit but it turns out that you don't have enormous rocks but smaller ones still it could be usefull to someone else.
  There is a very good book by Heidi Guildmeister published in English and Spanish, a Soul th African living in the Mediterranean who writes about how to have a garden without watering, using Mediterranean plants or Californian ones and such that bare the drought and she talks of using mulches, she talks of putting some vegetable mulches, wood chippings or such, on the a place in her garden that was a piece of bare rock and planting some bulbs and her strategy was successful and a big quantity of soil has built up there over the years.
    Do you know those cushions of moss on stones, i picked one off a stone once, it seems that the moss has grown died and the next years moss has grown one the dry moss of the year before and so on until a cushion developed. I rubbed the soil in the inside of the moss between my fingers and it felt as if there were sand in it. I don't know why i do these things. The sand could have come from the stone that the moss grew on but it wasn't a sandy rock or, I thought, could have come from airborn soil partilces that get caught in the rock and washed under the plants in the rain.or just became part of the soil when that years moss died and the next grew on top.
    This reminds me I read an article on hydraulic redistribution that mentions plants helping the soil at their feet because of the dust that lands on on the plant. You may think i read it before finding out about the soil under the moss, the trouble with studying things is that in some instances you of course notice the same things others have found out with otu knowing they are wellish known and then if you talk about the thought as if it was your own get accused of cheating. At other times you know things because you read them. The article was about the plants in a pretty desertified bit of mountainside in Chile cactuses  and how the soil at their feet was better than the soil where there were no plants. If i find the article i will post its name on this site. It was a on line article.
      Hydraulic redistribution, you can find it if you put in the words, -hydraulic redistribution in trees-, would be a good topic. for permies i reckon. I have been looking up all these things for years and here i am sicking it all up.
 
rose macaskie
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I have so many different things to say about rocks in gardens.
    When i was small, I  am 54 years old, my mother new an Italian woman who told her that, as a child, she used to be sent to remove the stones from ther fathers Fields.
    Masanobu Fukoaka mentions that the Mediterranean is overgrazed has lost its soil.
      Here there are fields covered in stones and sometimes you see the stones piled up at the sides of the Fields. It seems logical to imagine there will be more soil if you get rid of the stones but it is not the logical that is true in this case, leave the stones and the soil will appear on top of them, is the magic truth.  Once you have got down to stones, you have got down to stones and underneath there will be more stones and as likely as not solid rock. Soil has to be built up on top of stones.
    You need cover crops or any old vegetation to stop the erosion of the little soil left between stones and to have something that any wind blown dust can get under, so it does not get carried off again in the next blowy weather, if it lands, rain will wash dust under the plants and to provide the vegetable matter that is important in the top soil you want to build up.
      I reckon critters of different types,  i have found a word for critters that break up vegetable matter in the last month or so "detrivores" worms, wood lice, and i would add, ants, bring up any mineral dust, earth from below the stone as well taking down vegetable matter so that more than you expect starts to develop on your stone because of what's brought up from under them but that is only the only way i can think of describing why earth has built up in what, in another part i described as ten years and really is maybe twelve, in one part of my garden.
    If you think of those drawing of different layers of soils, the dark layer at the top and under a lighter and then a stony bit and then rock it should be sufficient to let you know why your land is Stone. You have got down to the stoner bit.
    Roots can break up rocks I have a photo of the roots of a encina Spanish evergreen oak quercus ilex subspecies ballota or rotundifolia, I took in a quarry and the roots made a vertical crack in the rock face. The rocks seemed to run in horizontal layers where there were no trees, I trespassed in the weekend to get the photos. The cracks the roots lived in where all earthy looking and wetter looking slightly darker than the next door rock. It seems the roots had crumbled the rock, a book i have on encinas says water collects in the cracks their roots  bore in the ground.
    Encinas are used her to feed the live stock, they provide fire wood, pollarded off  their man branches, acorns fatten the live stock in winter, and even the people theyeven made acorn meal bread and the leaf feeds live stock, cork oaks serve the same purpose and give cork in places that are more temperate. The use of trees to feed live stock could be another topic, i could really bore you all then.  there is an American who talks of this sort of use of oaks called Bainbridge David i think. the native Americans also used oaks.
 
paul wheaton
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One of the videos on the sepp holzer page goes into a lot of really interesting things about the use of rocks in gardens.


Roots can break up rocks I have a photo of the roots of a encina Spanish evergreen oak quercus ilex subspecies ballota or rotundifolia, I took in a quarry and the roots made a vertical crack in the rock face. The rocks seemed to run in horizontal layers where there were no trees, I trespassed in the weekend to get the photos. The cracks the roots lived in where all earthy looking and wetter looking slightly darker than the next door rock. It seems the roots had crumbled the rock, a book i have on encinas says water collects in the cracks their roots  bore in the ground.


Yowzers!  THAT is amazing!




 
Susan Monroe
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AH, but which came first, the crack or the tree?

The crack has to come first, the wind blows some dust and mulch into it, then a bird drops a seed or acorn, it gets enough moisture and sends out a root.  THEN, eventually, the root cracks the rock.

No crack, no tree, I think.

Paper, Scissor, Rock?

Crack, Dust, Seed!
 
rose macaskie
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  Is it a joke about cracks and roots? I am an absolutely paranoide type person so expect me to be really suspiciouse of anythign you write. I will send a foto of the encina root in the quarry, the root isnot simply pushing its way through the rock it has a roomy space round it with some earth in it.
  As nutrients can be washed into the ground having deep roots may be a way of getting at nutrients as well as water.
    I have just passed a really pleasurable hour or so whatching videos of sepp holzer because of your answer with a bit that opens him up if clicked on it.
  I try to do permiculture type things, i put sticks round the foot of the apple trees that the man who gave us the property planted, mulch them and my husband comes along and takes away the mulch. He is not a person you can argue with. It's a bit sad to try experiments and hoping to prove a point and to have them undone. I suppose its funny.
        I mentioned the many trees i have in my garden, when i arrived, they had all been cut down except a few plums so they are natural to the garden  but they grew up from their roots. Here keeping things clear is a mania. 
     
  I had somthing else to say about rocks it sometimes seems to me that encinas throw up rocks, i saw a lot of rocks in a wood of encinas i was painting in, i used to paint, and then it seemed the encina bushes  in my garden, my garden has a house side of the river which used to be used for vegetables and the other side which was what here is called monte s,ort of moor land, scrub land, pasture land.
    They are probably bushes because they were kept that way, cut every fifteen years for charcoal or because the animals ate them. It seemed to me that rocks started to appear at their feet sort of a foot by nine inches wide and high, remember i am the sort of woman who hasn't a clue about lengths. I had not thought of them as sun traps because there is rather too much sun here , i thought of them as as maybe places under which  water condensed helping the trees with the drought, is this possible. 
 
                                  
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I, too, saw the video where sepp holzer talks about rocks.  I was still a bit skeptical, though, of the idea that rocks in a field create lots of little microclimates that allow you to grow things from warmer zones.  But I live in S. Korea now, and they do all kinds of cool little plantings around rocks.  In fact, the landscapers where I work embedded lots of interesting rocks and even boulders into the hillsides and planted all kinds of ornamental perennials between them.  Despite a fairly cold winter, everything seems to have come back fine.  I also noticed that the walkways that had boulders beside them had less icing during the winter months than those that didn't.  So apparently the rocks do store during the day and give off at night enough heat to actually make a difference.
 
rose macaskie
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Bruce33ef i was interested by the rocks, i would like really precise instrutions on how to make a sun trap of rocks and such. I suppose i shall just start experimenting and finding out. I liked hearing about eastern rocks, they have a lot of rocks in gardens in japan in the fotos of them, I had not thought whether they they where good for flowers or not.
I was thinking about Sepp Holzers ponds and i wondered, as i have done some reading about earth building and in India they use manure to wash their mud floors with to make them more waterproof ISCOWP.ORG, a pretty indian from India type site and the same is said of mud walls in -pockets of the future dot com earth stoves in youtube, they put horse manure mud and straw mix as last layer  on their oven, the inner layers where clay and sand and a bit of straw with more straw on the second layer, they say manure  has enzymes that coagulate the mud or something of the sort and such a mix keeps out the rain better. I wondered if sepp holzer had not said in his lecture, translated by a nice woman, "that pigs do their thing" I think that was the ladies translation and the audience said "wallowing" and as he did not understand the audience he could not say that was not what he meant and so it stayed as wallowing, of course he might have meant wallowing, and i thought may be the word might have been they manured up the pool and that and the wallowing made it water tight.  I suppose, after reading about manure making things water tight i just started to guess that was what pigs did when he started talking.
      In Dubai They made their palm tree sand islands in the sea by putting metal poles in the sand they had piled up and vibrating them to make the sand settle and form a solid sort of  structure, i just wondered if vibrating wallowing in dug out hollows is enough to make these water proof.
 
rose macaskie
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I said that Heidi Guildmeister in her gardening book, Mediterranean gardening a water wise approach had said that she got some bulbs to grow just putting some organic mulch and the bulbs on her bit of rock face. I read it again, she put a bit of soil on th erock face and then a mulch with the bulbs zantedeschia, she said they didn't do very well at first but later they got on fine, she went on addign mulch in future years. She suggests strange things like the pulp left from pressing olives as mulch, what it would depend on the farming activities around you what you could find cheap. She also suggests chopped up twigs. 
  Paul Wheaton said that the hay on the road side might have chemicals on it. I suppose you could ask the town hall about that. Would hay from a farmer have chemicals on it? I heard that wheat straw inhibited the growth of things, you have to keep it a year or so before using it as a mulch.
 
rose macaskie
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I am trying to put up a foto of the encinas root in the rock of the quarry using so you can see wha ta roomy space they make for themselves in the rock and damp apparently fron the darkish colour and earthy. they seem to make earth.
the encina inthe foto is not verry old though it may have grown from a encian kept as a bush and so its size is not a indication of its age.its roots go down to below the patch of gravel on the cliff face not the heap before it. THe rock is a hardish typ of chalk i think.
roots 1.jpg
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2 monte.jpg
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Leah Sattler
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there are whole forests of oak that seem to be growing out of rocks here. Just a tiny little crack or space and they send down a tap root and start breaking up rocks more and more. its amazing!
 
rose macaskie
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I sent a photo of  a bit of land wooded with encinas, when i meant to send a second one of the quarry that shows how there aren't vertical cracks where there isn't an encina on top of the quary wall. Worse, it was a horribly out of focus photo taken from a moving car and does not do justice to my abilities as a photographer, abilities that aren't perfect but they are better than that.
 
gary gregory
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Location: northern california, 50 miles inland from Mendocino, zone 7
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When we bought our first goats we fenced an area that was one or two inches of soil over a thick bed of rocks so tightly packed I couldn't dig a trench for a water line.    We fed the goats alfalfa there for a year and all the alfalfa stems and leaves they didn't eat plus all their poop and pee and the little bit of soil has combined to be very good soil.  By digging raised beds in rows I ended up with 12" deep x 24" wide beds with the paths dug down to solid rock.  We add goat compost to the beds every year [thats composted goat manure, not composted goats!]  to try to make the beds a little deeper.    We didn't plan it for an eventual garden, but now it is our zone three growing area.    Gary
 
rose macaskie
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I  want to hang the foto that shows how there are not vertical cracks in the rock of the quarry where there are no trees. I thought if i hung just this one you would not be able to see the earth in the cracks or the roots mind you the roots are difficult to see anyway if you can't blow the foto upn zoom in on details.
roots 2.jpg
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